The Blockbuster Is Back: A Not So Quiet Return

When my intense interest in all things movies (including box office returns) began at a young age, the concept of the blockbuster was a fairly rare thing. Many classified it as a feature earning over $100 million domestically. When I became a teenager in 1992, there were only seven pictures that reached the milestone in that calendar year. When I turned 16 in 1995, there were six. The list expanded to 11 in my 18th year.

$100 million being a significant benchmark isn’t what it used to be. In fact, if a MCU extravaganza only grossed that number, it would be considered a massive flop. The number of films blasting past nine digits in recent times speaks for itself. In 2015, there were 29. 2016 brought 30. There were 33 in 2017 and 34 in 2018. The 2019 number was 31.

And then… COVID-19 happened and that previous consistency fell by the wayside. Theaters were shuttered or open in limited capacity for the bulk of 2020. That meant the number of domestic releases last year that topped $100 million were… 2. Both premiered before the coronavirus changed our world as we know it: Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog. 

Studios occasionally put out big movies that otherwise would have surely reached the mark like Warner Bros with Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984. However, the challenges affiliated with the virus prevented that.

Over the last several weeks, we see the country opening back up in lots of different ways. We will see an important example occur tonight. A Quiet Place Part II is poised to become the first movie in a year and a half to gross $100 million. Godzilla vs. Kong is sitting at $99 million and could also achieve that designation by the weekend. In short order, the number of blockbusters will have matched what we saw in 2020.

As the summer box office rolls along, there are other contenders that should or could do the same. F9 (which is over $200 million already overseas) and Black Widow are obvious ones. In the Heights, out today, is garnering Oscar chatter and glowing reviews and it could ride that buzz to hefty grosses. There’s also The Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Jungle Cruise, and Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. 

The September-December frame brings other surefire contenders and possibilities: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Dune, No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, Eternals, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Top Gun: Maverick, Encanto, West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix 4, Sing 2 among them.

Bottom line: there likely won’t be 30 plus $100 million makers in 2021. Yet the eventual number will far exceed what we witnessed in 2020 where multiplexes were a quiet place. Not anymore.

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